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All About Wicks...

Understanding Wicks
Wicks come as pre-tabbed wicks or by the spool (or yard). Pre-tabbed wicks have a stiff wick and a silver base called a Tab. Wick tabs come in many sizes, but the most common sizes are 15mm and 20mm. This measurement is for the round disc base. The metal stem on the base is called the Wick Collar (or neck). Collars also come in different lengths.

For making gel candles it is recommended that you use a wick tab with a collar no less than 6mm long. All our wick tabs are 9mm. This is to stop the candle burning when the flame reaches the bottom of your container. A wick that continues to burn too close to the bottom of the glass container will most likely heat the glass enough to break it. By using a longer wick collar, your flame will extinguish before it gets too close to the glass base. If you are making candles with sand or decorative items please read Wick Stop Safety.

Pre-tabbed wicks are necessary for making votives and container candles (both paraffin and gel). Spool wick is usually used for pillars and tapers.

Have you ever wondered what all those wick numbers mean? Wicks have from 1 to 5 numbers which actually have meaning even to the beginning candlemaker. For example, we sell wicks with a series of 3 numbers and a "Z" at the end. Each wick will create a different flame height, meltpool and rate of wax consumption.

The first number tells you the wick size. The size of the wick is determined by how many spools of yarn were used to make the wick. The higher the number, the larger the wick. Hence, the larger the meltpool (which can mean better fragrance throw), and usually the higher the wax consumption.

The second number indicates the speed at which the wick was sent through the braiding machine. The higher the number, the faster the speed, the tighter the braid. The tighter the braid, the less fuel consumption.

The third number/ last number is a code for the temperature of the wax as the wick is fed through the gears of the braiding machine.. This temperature varies according to the previous numbers.

The last letter is as follows:

Z=Zinc Core
P=Paper Core
C=Cotton Core

So . . . why so many different wick types?

The different types of wicks are:

1. Flat braid cotton - This wick is most commonly used in tapers and pillars. This wick type curls into the flame while burning which causes a self-trimming effect and virtually eliminates carbon build-up (also known as mushrooming).

2. Square braid cotton - These braided wicks also curl in the flame. Because they are more rounded and a bit more robust than the flat wicks, they are preferred in beeswax applications and can help inhibit clogging of the wick when there are higher levels of non-combustible material (such as high pigment or fragrance). These wicks are used most frequently in taper or pillar applications.

3. Cored Wicks - Zinc, paper, cotton or hemp. The need for cored wicks arose with the popularity of container candles and their need for a rigid wick that would remain supported and centered in the hot melted wax. These are also braided wicks with a cross section. They are used in jar candles, gel, pillars and votives. (NOTE: Wicks used in votives, jars and gels require a wick tab for keeping the wick centered and/or fastened. The zinc, paper and cotton cored wicks were developed to take the place of lead core wicks. The USA no longer permits lead core wicks to be manufactured here.

4. HTP Wicks - The American version of the "German Wick". HTP stands for High Temperature Paper. This wick is wax coated and is a cotton flat braid with a strand of paper braided into it for hotter burning. These are a rigid wick and are also self-trimming, thus reducing the carbon build-up common to the zinc core wicks. Used in jar candles, gels, votives and pillars.

5. Specialty Wicks - i.e. fiberglass wicks, wicks used for citronella, tea lights, oil lamps, and other applications.

Which wick should I use? This is the most common question we are asked. Understandably so considering the goal of every candlemaker is to produce a slow and clean burning candle with a great scent throw. In order to achieve this you must discover the right wick with the right wax. Even the most experienced candlemaker will tell you that the only way to definitively answer that question is to TEST, TEST, TEST. You may want to try our Wick Slab Test. The wick that works best in your candle may not work so well in mine. Why?

The different components in a candle which effect the burn quality of a particular wick are:

  • Diameter of Candle
  • Type of Candle (Container or Free-Standing)
  • Fuel type (Gel, paraffin, Beeswax, Soy/Vegetable, Palm, Liquid)
  • Wax Meltpoint
  • Additives
  • Dye Color (Light or Dark)
  • Fragrance or Non-Fragrance

Different wicks produce different results in each candle. The differences you should notice as you burn a candle are meltpool size, flame height, and burn rate (the amount of time it takes a particular wick to consume all the wax in the candle).

It's always best to begin your observation with a non-fragranced and non-dyed candle. In other words, only the wax and wick. The following considerations are a starting point in your testing process. Once you have achieved the safest and best burning candle, each time you change one ingredient, you must re-test. Candlemaking is a science and requires extensive experimentation in order to achieve a safe quality product.

Factors to Consider

* Diameter of Candle - The first factor to consider is the diameter of your candle. The relationship between the wick size and candle diameter will affect the meltpool of your candle. A smaller diameter candle requires a smaller wick while a larger diameter candle requires a larger wick, and in some cases, multiple wicks. As you burn your test candle, observe how much wax the candle consumes. Is it leaving a large portion of unmelted wax around the parameter? Is it burning the entire diameter of the candle and spilling over? (Not good if you're making a pillar candle ~ Great if you're making a container candle!) Is the flame smoking? Does the flame keep extinguishing?

If the flame keeps extinguishing, your wick is too small. If it is smoking, it is too large? (I was observing a new wick size the other day and made a candle with a #6 wick. That's a very large wick. I knew the wick was too large, but wanted to observe it anyway, so I took the candle home to observe the burning. My hubby wanted to know if I was trying to burn the house down :-) The flame was almost 4" high, the smoke detector alarm was going off, and I still didn't have a meltpool anywhere near the size I wanted.)

By the way, I'm still trying to properly wick that candle. It is a heart shaped pillar. Because of it's irregular shape and large size I've determined I will have to triple wick it and probably need to use a lower meltpoint wax.

* Type of Wax - Gel burns at a hotter temperature than paraffin/wax, and therefore requires a larger wick than a paraffin candle of the same diameter. The same is true for Beeswax. Since Beeswax is a much harder wax than paraffin, it usually requires a size larger wick. Soy/Vegetable container wax has a low MP and will require a smaller wick than the same size paraffin candle.

Wax meltpoints for paraffin can range from 120* to 165*. And the meltpoint can reach 230* with microcrystalline and additives. The meltpoint is the temperature in which the wax melts. This usually requires a smaller wick, while a high MP wax will require a larger wick. You must consider this while still factoring the diameter of the candle.

NOTE: If you do not know the meltpoint of your wax you can determine it by using this procedure: Completely melt your wax and then turn off the heat. Using your thermometer, observe the temperature which the wax begins to harden. This will help you determine the meltpoint.

To relate the first 2 considerations: A 2" pillar candle using a paraffin wax of 145* MP will usually require a smaller wick than a 2" pillar using a 165* MP wax.

For a 3" container candle - A 3" gel container is going to require a larger wick than a 3" paraffin container. (NOTE: paraffin container candles usually are best when made with a low MP wax i.e. 128* MP).

* Additives - Adding Vybar, Stearic, Crystals and other hardeners will effect the wick size. Hardening the wax can cause the perfect wick to become too small for the candle. Often you will need to move up a wick size once adding a hardener.

* Type of Candle - You must consider the type of candle you are making. Votives are usually burned in a container and completely liquify when burning. The same desired result is true with container candles. On the other hand, pillars are a disaster if they totally liquify, or even have such a large meltpool that the melted wax is flowing over the edges.

* Dye and Fragrance - Dye or fragrance can be a clogging culprit in your candle. A clogged wick will not continue burning. Once you choose the correct wick for your test with the wax and wick only, you will find that once you add fragrance or dye, you may need to change the wick size. Some fragrance is thicker than other fragrance, and thus a different fragrance added to the same candle may require a different wick. Even if it is the same flavor, but you bought it from a different supplier.

NOTE: Do not use melted crayons to color your candle. This is sure to clog your wick. Too much candle dye can also clog a wick.

For Gel candles you have to use gel-safe fragrance or embed frangranced wax into the gel. For information on fragrance please go to About Gel.

After writing this article, I came across Diane's Wick Testing Warning. I thought it was worth posting here since we're discussing this very issue. Here it is:

"Hi everyone...I am cross posting which I never do because I want to make sure new people read - this is one reason to test, test, test. Feel free to copy this post to send to new candlemakers.

I made candles years ago and have made them for the last two years. I have tested various wicks..they has to fit your formula. I was having some problems with my current wicks and had read about the Performa on various egroup list. So I ordered some to try. I am looking for a new votive wick. So I read the burn rates and decided to try the smallest (60) Performa in my votives. My votives are very low mp designed to liquefy and burn away completely.

***I ALWAYS (thank God) test burn my votives in a snug fitting holder. Put that holder on a ceramic dish and put a hurricane glass over it. Roomy enough for air flow. All for safety. I also test burn in the bathroom or kitchen on ceramic countertops. This is how the test went:

Test burn 1...burn 4 hours. Flame was a little high to start with, not self trimming like the LX wicks but overall it's looking good. Let candle cool down.

Test burn 2...trim wick to l/4 inch and lit votive. This is a beautiful flame. Votives is burning nice ... burn time is going great. Burn it about 6 hours and notice the whole thing is liquid so I blow it out.

Test burn 3...same votive. Trim wick. Begin burning. I'm loving this flame...beautiful...great throw. So I keep checking it. Going great over the hours. Wick doesn't need trimmed.

By this time it is evening and I'm not thinking I need to hover over this candle anymore. I'll let it keep burning to see what the final burn hours are for the votive.

I'm watching TV and one of my cats (out of 10) keeps coming in the LR staring at me. So I walk over to pet him. He wraps himself around my legs and walks down the hall. Then comes back...wraps around and walks back down the hall. So I follow him. I see flashes of light that are brighter than they should be coming from the bathroom. Look inside and the votive was on fire. Flaming fire! It was contained inside the container...remember my safety rules. Otherwise my bathroom would have been in flames and my Grandson was sleeping in the bedroom that backs that bathroom.

This is why....test, test, test every time you change something. That flame looked great all day, every day I burned it. Everything was beautiful. If I had not burned that votive all the way down I would not have known it could flash fire with my formula.

My hypothesis is that my formula is low temp...the wick burned hotter so when it got down to the last 1/4 inch wax it overheated and caught fire. I know it wasn't a flash from unmixed scent because of the way I cook my formula. I burn one of every batch of candles I make all the way down to see how the final flame is. If I had not tested this wick in this way then I would have given this away and it would have happened to one of my friends or children who are not as cautious as I am. I always test like I think someone who doesn't know anything about candles will burn their candle. They aren't going to trim it regularly or hover over it. They are going to light it and walk away.

I want to stress there wasn't anything wrong with the wick. It was the combination of wick and my formula was a bad fit. After further research on these wicks I read on one information place that these wicks are good for soy. If you only have a high temp wax to work with these might be some wicks you want to try. I have some 140 I'm going to mix up and see how they work. Just for the experimenting side of candlemaking :-) Everyone have a great day! Diane in FL"

Wick Size Guidelines:

We have suggested uses for each size of wick on our Wick Page . This will give you a starting place for your wick testing.

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